Hurdling into the Wind

Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around.
–James Taylor

With the exception of pole-vaulters, no athletes in the sport of Track & Field are more affected by the wind than hurdlers. I’ve been at meets where I’ve seen pole-vaulters just standing on the runway holding their pole, waiting and hoping as long as they can for the wind to die down. Hurdlers, unfortunately, do not have such a luxury, so they have to deal with the wind as it blows. In this article, I will discuss various ways to deal with hurdling in the different wind conditions.

The headwind is the most difficult type of wind for a hurdler to deal with. If you’re a hurdler who does a lot of resistance training – parachute, sled, etc., then you are well-prepared for running into a headwind, as the same factors come into play, since the wind is simply just another form or resistance. When hurdling into a headwind, it’s important to run with a lower center of gravity between the hurdles – to not run as upright and erect as you normally would. You still want to keep your chest out and your chin up, but you’ll want to push your chest forward more, drive your knees forward with more emphasis, and thrust your arms with more emphasis, all while trying to maintain relaxation in the muscles of the upper body. From a mental standpoint, you can’t “fight” the wind. The harder you try to fight through it, the more you’ll tighten your muscles, and, therefore, the more you’ll exhaust yourself in the effort. In practice, if there’s a strong headwind, I’ll sometimes turn the hurdles around because the wind can have such a tremendous negative effect on a workout, and particularly on a hurdler’s confidence level. However, a hurdler needs to hurdle into the wind on occasion during practice in order to grow accustomed to the adjustments he or she needs to make between the hurdles.

The tailwind presents a different type of problem for a hurdler. When hurdling with a tailwind behind you, the difficulty lies in getting too crowded between the hurdles, because a strong tailwind will surely get you on top of hurdles more quickly, which can totally throw you off your rhythm. Most crashes occur in tailwinds, as hurdlers are just not used to the advanced speed a tailwind brings. I’ve known many hurdlers who have said they prefer racing into a headwind as opposed to a tailwind because of this very problem. Most hurdlers who feel that way are the taller ones, who already have problems with getting crowded anyway. The ones who are very fast 100m sprinters also feel this way. For a beginning hurdler, who doesn’t yet have confidence in his or her three-step rhythm, a tailwind can be the greatest blessing imaginable, as it gives him or her the stride length necessary to sprint comfortably in between the hurdles and to take off into each hurdle from a comfortable distance. For a more experienced hurdler, it is very important to be very quick with the lead leg action when running with a tailwind at your back, as the take-off distance from each hurdle will be closer than it is under normal conditions. One way to avoid crashing into hurdles would be to simply slow down your tempo, to adjust your speed to the wind conditions, but I strongly believe that you should never, for any reason, sacrifice speed, because running the hurdles aggressively is of paramount importance to running a satisfying race, regardless of any and all external factors. If the tailwind is forcing you run faster between the hurdles, then you must be quicker with the reflex action of negotiating the barrier. The jamming workout, in which the hurdles are moved in to two or even three feet from the regular mark, and the hurdler sprints at the hurdles at full speed, is a good workout to prepare a hurdler for tailwinds.

Crosswinds are disconcerting for the simple reason that they cause balance problems, which lead to rhythm problems, which lead to technique problems. Crosswinds, unlike headwinds and tailwinds, cause more problems on top of the hurdle as opposed to between the hurdles. Sometimes a crosswind can be so strong that you might feel like you’re being blown into the next lane. On top of the hurdle, the tendency is to swing the arms too wide in the direction counter to the wind in a subconscious attempt to combat the force of the wind. This approach does not make for efficient hurdling, but makes for a very herky-jerky race. It can also cause an inordinate amount of contact with your competitors if everybody’s arms are swinging from side to side! When hurdling into a crosswind, the key to efficiency is to stay as low as possible on top of the hurdle so that the wind does not have much opportunity to throw you off balance. The higher your clearance, the longer you’re in the air, and the more you’re at the mercy of the wind.

Generally Speaking
When competing in conditions that are extraordinarily windy, regardless of what direction the wind is coming from, it’s important to adapt your mindset before the competition begins. When you arrive at a meet, one of the first things you should be doing is checking on the direction and the intensity of the wind. If your goal going to a race was to run a personal best, and then when you arrive at the venue you recognize that the wind is howling, forget about the personal best, and focus on competing well. Whatever the wind conditions are for you, they’re the same for your opponents as well. You want to go into a race feeling that, regardless of the wind or any other weather factors, you’re at an advantage. If there’s a headwind, you’re at an advantage. If there’s a tailwind, you’re at an advantage. If there’s a crosswind, you’re at an advantage. If it’s raining, you’re at an advantage. If it’s really hot and humid, you’re at an advantage. If it’s cold and snow flurries are falling, you’re at an advantage. And on down the line. The key to developing this level of confidence lies in training in all types of weather conditions, and in approaching all types of weather conditions analytically as opposed to emotionally. If you say to yourself, “I don’t like running in the rain,” then, when the rain comes, you’re not going to run well, because you’ve already made the decision that you won’t. On the other hand, if you say to yourself, “If it rains, I’ll dress accordingly and alter my warm-up accordingly,” then, when the rain comes, you’ll be ready. In regards to training, if you never practice hurdling in the rain, or into a headwind, then if you have to deal with such conditions on race day, you won’t have the mental equipment necessary to deal with the weather variables. As a hurdler, when it comes to the wind, prepare for everything, be ready for anything, but fear nothing.

© 2005 Steve McGill

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